Don't be thrown off by this question—just take a deep breath and explain to the hiring manager why you've made the career decisions you have. More importantly, give a few examples of how your past experience is transferrable to the new role. This doesn't have to be a direct connection; in fact, it's often more impressive when a candidate can make seemingly irrelevant experience seem very relevant to the role.
Tip: Much like the previous question about motivation, employers might ask what you are passionate about to better understand what drives you and what you care most deeply about. This can both help them understand whether you are a good fit for the role and if it fits into your larger goals. To answer, select something you are genuinely passionate about, explain why you’re passionate about it, give examples of how you’ve pursued this passion and relate it back to the job.
If asked this question, be honest and specific about your future goals, but consider this: A hiring manager wants to know a) if you've set realistic expectations for your career, b) if you have ambition (a.k.a., this interview isn't the first time you're considering the question), and c) if the position aligns with your goals and growth. Your best bet is to think realistically about where this position could take you and answer along those lines. And if the position isn’t necessarily a one-way ticket to your aspirations? It’s OK to say that you’re not quite sure what the future holds, but that you see this experience playing an important role in helping you make that decision.
Example: “Making a meaningful difference in the lives of my patients and their families motivate me to strive for excellence in everything I do. I look forward to seeing their reaction when we get a positive outcome that will change their lives forever. Like the family of a young boy we treated last year. At eight years old, he had experienced rapid weight gain and signs of depression. His parents described him as a usually joyful child, but now he seemed disengaged and uninterested in his typical schedule. In the end, we determined that it was hypothyroidism which is, of course, controllable with medication. The boy is adjusting well to the treatment and has returned to his joyful self. That’s why I became a nurse and why I’m pursuing a position in pediatrics.”